Sarah Todd: ‘Tis the season to feel guilty at charity onslaught

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“THERE’S a pen in this one, you’ll have to send at least five pounds,” announced The Son as we waded through this week’s deluge of charity mailshots.

In fact, there were coasters, Christmas cards and a pen in this particular seasonal greeting/guilt trip from the British Red Cross.

There’s a metal container next to our driveway, which the postman pops our mail in to save wandering up to the front door and running the gauntlet of our super-sized lurcher.

We had to empty it out the other day as he was struggling to fit any normal letters – aka bills – in because of all the Christmas begging letters festering in the bottom.

A psychologist would doubtless have a field day with the way they are always left to pile up in this way.

In the mailbox they haven’t actually been delivered into the household; they’re in a kind of limbo land. Not our problem; but no longer the responsibility of Royal Mail.

But once the rusty red container that housed them had been upended onto the kitchen table they prayed on the mind. Note to self; next time be brave and tip them out straight into the wheelie bin.

Oh no, too late, there’s one here from The Donkey Sanctuary. Where’s the cheque book?

There are pictures of poor little donkeys in Greece – skin and bone – and then smiling (yes, they are) Eeyores at the sanctuary headquarters in Devon, bedded-up to their hocks in straw and the odd foal photograph thrown in for good measure.

We’ll have to buy some Christmas cards and maybe one of those cuddly toy donkeys for the little niece.

Look here, there’s an equally cute soft toy greyhound, a brindle called Reggie, on sale from the Retired Greyhound Trust, which has – how kind – also sent us a leaflet.

Just rewind a bit. Yours truly has a DNA make-up of Yorkshire farmers, cattle and horse dealers.

Cross this with, since the tender age of 18, a working life as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor, and tough cookie – not soft touch – should be the characteristic that springs to mind.

Thinking aloud, what state does this barrage of mail from Christmas good causes leave the vulnerable in? The elderly spring to mind straight away.

The issue was, of course, highlighted after the death of 92- year-old Olive Cooke who, it was claimed, received 260 begging letters a month and had 27 direct debits to charities.

After Olive took her own life, her family were gracious and didn’t – like the media – blame charities, but the sad story of Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller triggered nearly 400 complaints in the month following her death, with the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) launching an investigation into charity fundraising practice.

Judging by our makeshift 
mail container at the driveway, there has been no noticeable let-up in mailshots.

Changing direction a little, are all these “free” gifts the right way for charities to be spending their supporters’ donations?

Already wary about the megabucks salaries paid to some of the top brass in the charity hierarchy, are all these gift tags, notepads, calendars and the like a good way of boosting charity coffers?

Are they a waste of money or a savvy way to get the tills jingling at Christmas?

Apparently, they make absolute and utter financial sense. The British Red Cross 
says that an extra 50,000 
people started donating as a direct result of its free fundraising packs posed out in 2014.

Last October, the Royal British Legion sent out nearly 700,000 fundraising gifts and revealed that for every £1 spent on direct marketing, £2.20 was raised for the charity.

The Salvation Army’s rate of return appears to be the most impressive; with in 2013 the charity reporting £18.16 in income for every £1 spent on Christmas appeal letters.

Interestingly, this charity’s red envelope has just been opened. There is no free gift, just a letter and easy-to-read list of 10 things The Salvation Army will be doing to help people in need this Christmas.

Things like delivering food parcels, toys and clothes. Practical help. Its simplicity obviously appeals to more than this correspondent alone.

Rather than send some 
money, there’s a clothing collection point run by this charity down at the local tip and all those old jumpers, scarves, shoes and hats that have been bunging up our cupboards will be deposited here.

Back to those envelopes 
still unopened on the kitchen table.

Missives from ChildLine and the RSPCA are at the top of the pile, along with unopened “election communication” leaflets from both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, touting for our support back on May 7.

Then information about forward-planning funerals and urgent-looking letters from private hospitals, supermarkets, fuel suppliers, cruise companies, independent schools, broadband providers, online bingo and opticians…

 Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.